Aren’t You Asians All Good at Math?

by Nina Schidlovsky

I looked at the piece of paper in my hand and my heart lurched. A big fat D+ laughed at me in red marker. If I turned the page to the side it looked like the Cheshire cat grinning with a little bow tie—mocking me and tormenting me to no end.

My classmate behind me scooted forward and loomed over my shoulder. “Aren’t you Asians all good at math?” He snorted.

“I’m not that kind of Asian.” I retorted—trying to keep the tears from welling up. “I’m the fun kind—the singing, dancing, laughing, beauty pageant kind.”

“Whatever,” he said. “I still think it’s weird you suck at math. You know? Since you’re Asian and all?” With that, he gathered his notebook, battered textbook, TI-83 and plodded out of the room.

Asian and all? What was that supposed to mean?

Math was never my strong subject. It had even been a struggle since elementary school. One of my teachers would draw an ice cream cone on our quizzes and reward us with ice cream if we did well. I never saw an ice cream cone. All I saw was sad face after sad face after sad face.

People don’t always fit into the mold we want them to. I think it scares people when they can’t place individuals into groups that they are associated with. Jamaicans smoke weed. Southern girls are white trash. Asians are good at math.

So just the for the record: even though I am Asian, I suck at math. I’m terrible at chess. And I never wanted to be a concert violinist. Oh, and I am an excellent driver who uses her turn signal.


Nina Schidlovsky grew up in Bei Jing, Hong Kong, Hawaii, and Maryland. She now teaches martial arts and is working on her first children’s book which her aunt is illustrating. She lives in Maryland and is the proud owner of her lizard, Toothless, and her sugar glider named Archer.

Nina’s last piece, “Taxi Driver,” can be found here.


  1. Right on, Nina –> I’m terrible at geometry and have little interest in math. It’s just not that important to some people, no matter what sex or race or nationality they are.

    That young lad’s remarks were racist, of course. What a dolt. I hope he’s grown out of that kind of thinking.

  2. Lisa DeNike Ercolano says:

    Yesterday at dinner, Juliet was recounting an encounter that happened at her new high school, where a classmate (who happens herself to be of Indian origin) has been making assumptions about Juliet, who is Chinese-American, based on Juliet’s ethnicity. Juliet had a band-aid on her knee (shower shaving casualty) and the girl said “Did you get that doing karate? Are you a black belt?” Later, when the kids were doing a group activity and one boy in the group admitted he didn’t do his part, Juliet said “Well, there goes my grade!” and the girl said “It’s just like an Asian person to always be worried about grades.”

    • Nina Schidlovsky says:

      Wow, what an insensitive young lady! And group projects are pretty terrible anyway. You always get that one person that doesn’t do their part–even in college. And hey, at least Juliet cared about her grade!

  3. I have the same problem, so glad I am not the only “faulty” Asian out there. Although, I was adopted by Asians and they desperately wanted me to conquer math. And medicine. And law. And marry an Ob.Gyn. And cook amazing food.

    Well. 😛

    • Nina Schidlovsky says:

      Yay for mathematically challenged Asians! I think there are more of us out there than people think. Haha!

      • I’m with you girls as a mathematically challenged Korean(still utilize my fingers)… funny thing is I did marry an Ob/Gyn and people tell me I should open a restaurant. Here’s to having a good laugh at stereo types 🙂

  4. Stereotypes… I share your pain — here, too, another Asian who’s not good at maths, or physics, or chemistry. Over the years I have accepted that that’s me and I love me anyways despite the fact that I don’t fit the pigeonhole. Love your post! Thanks so much for sharing!

    • Nina Schidlovsky says:

      That’s wonderful that you’ve accepted yourself as who you are–even if you don’t fit in the pigeonhole. Be proud to be different! It’s sure a heck of a lot more interesting!

  5. Nina, I had a student once insist, no matter how I tried to explain that she was dealing in stereotypes, that Asians are the best at math and that Jews are the smartest. I said what happened to my kids then? Hahahaha. Ok, I’m just kidding. Here’s hoping Marisha doesn’t read this. Or her brother either. I love your piece. It’s so sincere and appalling and yet so funny, too.

    • ….I read it….

    • Nina Schidlovsky says:

      Well, my mom was asking herself that for sure. I passed my Algebra II class because I asked my teacher if she really wanted to deal with me again next semester–not because of any behavior problems but because I was just so incompetent at the subject.

  6. Hi Nina, great writing. I think everyone is stereotyped. The challenge is really to know thy self well and be content with who we are. => Others’ perceptions — eventually, it’s not gonna be your problem. =>

  7. Nina! I loved this post! I cant tell you how many times I have endured the same crap! haha The last paragraph was my favorite. Thank god we can prove people wrong. I always sucked at geometry which made me suck at science…so I was no “asian and all” scholar. 😉 Good for you x

    • Nina Schidlovsky says:

      Yeah, science sucked–I feel you on that. I also think though that good science teachers are lacking along with good math teachers.

  8. Reblogged this on Don't We Look Alike? and commented:

    Re-blogging this piece of Nina’s which rings such a bell!

  9. I was also horrible in math! I flunked algebra and ended up taking consumer math instead the following year. I purposely majored in piano performance and not music ed in college to avoid taking any math classes!

    • Nina Schidlovsky says:

      I know, Algebra was hard for me, I had to retake both semesters in summer school. I totally understand shying away from the math in music theory and music ed. 🙂

  10. Nice! This was good to read. =>


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